Last night the Detroit Lions staged an exciting fourth quarter comeback to keep Aaron Rodgers and the Packers out of the playoffs. The upset culminated with a trick play and then a fourth down conversion on a play where most of the league would have been happy kicking a field goal. It was really good shit that was thoroughly enjoyed by fans across the spectrum of NFL teams (minus the Packers obviously).
The Lions didn’t have really anything to play for other than pride and spite for their division rival. Dan Campbell said as much and with their playoff fate sealed earlier in the day, the Lions still went into Green Bay, pissed in the Packers’ Wheaties, and ended their season. It was awesome…. and I want more.
This moment from Jamal Williams on Hard Knocks hits WAY different tonight. pic.twitter.com/tFlQtr1Dl4
— Jay Scott Smith (@JayScottSmith) January 9, 2023
For my entire life, I have not given a shit about the Detroit Lions outside of Barry Sanders being awesome. They pretty much have ruined Thanksgiving with boring football. That’s their brand: 5-12 with a boring game on Thanksgiving. They were the first franchise to go 0-16 in a season. They once elected to kick off in overtime and then lost because of it. Dan Orlovsky ran out of the back as the enzone for a safety! That’s the Lions! They’re not good!
But that looks like it’s changing and some of that change was something you could sense a bit when the Lions were featured on Hard Knocks this past year. It’s no secret that Hard Knocks has been on the decline the last decade as roster cut deadline rule changes and limited access from begrudging participating teams has really diluted the quality of the product. It’s just not what it used to be, but this past season the Lions bucked the trend and provided one of the more engaging and entertaining seasons of the show in the past decade.
For those unfamiliar, here’s the full quote from the opening scene of this summer’s Hard Knocks: pic.twitter.com/Cse80YS68K
— Omar Ruiz (@OmarDRuiz) January 9, 2023
It’s really not that complicated of a formula and the Lions checked all of the right boxes including:
- A very engaging, likable, and compelling Head Coach unafraid to show genuine emotion and human moments.
- Transparency on tough roster decisions.
- Increased access across the team, coaching staff, and facilities and not limited access with PR guardrails controlling the narrative.
- A team at some type of high stakes moment in their history – going somewhere, fading away, turning a page, trying to maintain their status, trying to achieve new status, etc. They’re a team that isn’t going to be the same version they were the last few years.
And for the most part, fans ate up the Lions this past year. The slow start in the regular season cooled a bit of the afterglow of such a fun season of Hard Knocks, but the strong finish to this season had myself and others clamoring at the idea of a repeat season of the Lions on Hard Knocks. The normal preseason version would be fine. If the NFL wants to mix it up, the in-season version which has really struggled to register much with fans, also works as well. The poll referenced above with nearly 4,000 voters seems to indicate that I’m not alone here. Getting a majority of fans to agree on one team is a pretty telling indication that there is some strong interest among potential viewers.
Will this happen?
If the Lions put their hands up to run it back, I think NFL Films would likely take them up on it. We’re still a few weeks away from knowing the list of teams that could be compelled to be on Hard Knocks (teams not in the playoffs and who don’t have a new first year head coach) in the event that no team volunteers who is not on that list. But regardless, the Lions tower over any other franchise at this point as a possible option.
Sure, we have a lot of coach and player movement that will change the attractiveness of various teams to be on the show, but for me I just don’t see another team arising as a better choice. The Lions provided a much needed throwback to some of the grittier earlier seasons which were enjoyable, entertaining, and must-watch TV. I’m really confident they would do so again if they and NFL Films were inclined to go down that road.